(Photo Credit: McGahey's Musings)

May 21, 2014

Theologizers and the Anti-Seminary

This past year or so has witnessed a rollout of liberal evangelical nonsense. Matthew Vines wrote his controversial God and the Gay Christian, which asserts that evangelicalism and the homosexual lifestyle are compatible. While Vines received a tome-length critique from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary crowd, he also elicited great praise from Rachel Held Evans, who has been championing revisionist sexual ethics on her blog for quite some time now.

In the meantime, more traditional Christians of all sorts have been able to reflect and intellectually stew on these new developments. I gained a sense of the conservative consensus when my Facebook and Twitter feeds exploded with links to this First Things article by Owen Strachan and Andrew Walker. Pastors especially have run out of patience for the crowing of the progressive evangelicals. Soon after, the energetic Strachan posted a piece investigating Evans’s feminist theology, which mimics the same theological blunders as the infamous Re-Imagining conference, the ghost of which haunts some Mainline Protestant halls to this day.

In addition, a large contingent of laity have joined in this critique in their individual blogs and social media channels. Of course, Evans has taken to Twitter to voice her frustrations, only to be joined by her fearsome band of followers. The whole issue seems to be at an impasse.

What is amazing is that Vines and Evans have little formal theological education and yet have widespread popularity, especially among Millennial evangelicals. As one of my friends pointed out to me, Evans in particular is the perfect writer for this low-attention-span generation which eschews dense reading and complex arguments. Young evangelicals have been raised in a culture that discourages good intellectual habits. Instead, they are informed by the blogosphere. Heaven help them if the truth is to be found on page 4 of a Google search. For the orthodox and revisionist-leaning alike, there are a plethora of amateur theologizers rather than theologians in American congregations today.

Even Ivy Leaguer Tony Jones has to play the game. Everyone has to in order to get readers. Thus, even his Kindle book on the atonement resembles a long series of blog posts rather than a thorough-going analysis of primary sources.

Vines himself provides the perfect example of this approach. He left his bachelor’s degree program at Harvard to study the issue of LGBT issues and the Christian faith. After two whopping years of research, he churned out a book that disagrees with two millennia of explicit church teaching on moral ethics. And the digital crowds roar.

Of course, letters from a degree don’t make someone right or any less of a fool. But we are starting to observe firsthand that the radical democratization of knowledge has led to what John Luckacs calls “an inflation of ideas.” Everyone has been given just enough knowledge and literacy to get them into trouble and yet none of the patience or discipline to get them out of it. Everyone with a blog or Twitter account can shoot out lots of small ideas that lack depth, grounding, and merit. Thus, American Christians are confronted with more and more theological ideas that have less and less worth.

Furthermore, there are no official channels to handle false teaching, only moral suasion. Reasoning and rhetoric outside conciliar and synodal settings have always been important features of Christian theology. However, theological ideas would meet with accountability under the auspices of diocesan bishops, synods, and councils. Today, most of the Evangelical Left aren’t built into any disciplined structure. They are perpetual digital gadflies. The only court in which to try them is the court of public opinion. There is no way to interact with them in an ordered, ecclesiastical manner. Everyone is doing their own congregational thing. Thus, conservatives and liberals have to yell at each other on the internet. This is a crisis of church polity that will not be easily remedied.

Contemporary American Christians are faced with their own creation. Their individualistic and democratic views idealize the religious entrepreneur. Moreover, their distrust of hierarchy and institutions combines with a lack of commitment to organic unity (this is a newer development).

The state of the divinity school doesn’t help matters, either. The seminary, in its classical form, is where one engages in deep, orthodox theological study under the authority and spiritual formation of the Church. Obviously, this classic ideal is increasingly rare in the United States these days. As history has shown, seminaries have abandoned orthodoxy, become hyper-academic without thought to spiritual formation, have been reduced to degree factories, or have removed the Church in favor of the parachurch or nondenominationalism.

Many American seminaries languish. Thus, the streams which should feed and guide the theologically curious are insufficient. Making matter worse, social norms encourage more trust in the internet than in the Bride of Christ. Instead, seekers look to ecclesiastically untethered and academically undisciplined smooth talkers for spiritual guidance and insight. Welcome to the Anti-Seminary.


112 Responses to Theologizers and the Anti-Seminary

  1. Greg says:

    The problem you write about are the persistent and inevitable fruits of the “sola scriptura” and “freedom of a Christian” teachings.

    • Dave says:

      It is a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura and the freedom of a Christian.

      Churches with bishops, synods, and councils have the same issue to contend with here.

      The penultimate paragraph is true and also goes across the board.

      The real problem is cultural conversion… the other way.

      • Greg says:

        Dave: Your comment illustrates my point in a nutshell. To wit, you argue that all those “off the reservation” folks talked about here in this article, simply have a misunderstanding of scripture and theology. If only they had a proper (that is to say, your) understanding of both, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Multiply that position by a couple thousand, and presto, you have “Protestantism” in all it’s iterations.

        • JOB2001 says:

          Greg, your assumption appears to be that with an authoritative Church (perhaps with a Pope?) there wouldn’t be this kind of diversity. But nothing could be farther
          from the truth. The Roman Catholic
          Church, for instance, is rife with theological disagreements of all sorts. (It’s a naughty pleasure to watch Scott Hahn rail against Roman Catholics who do not follow the Decrees of the Council of Trent.) While formally one, the Roman
          Catholic Church is as disparate as Protestantism.

          Even an infallible person has not and could not prevent such diversity. People are perfectly capable of misunderstanding an infallible individual as they are the
          Bible, which, as it happens, was written by a fair number of infallible individuals. The causes of our seemingly unbridled diversity are not institutional, but spiritual and are under the sovereign purpose and direction of Christ. For his own glory, He has been pleased to keep his Church in a state of weakness, that the exceeding excellence of His power and grace may be manifested thereby.

          But the hidden truth is that those who have been saved by Christ have been taught effectively by His Spirit. Ecclesiastical allegiances aside, they agree on all the most important truths: that Scripture is the Word of God, the only and infallible rule of faith and
          practice, the God is one and triune, that Christ is God incarnate, that we are
          saved by faith alone, but not by a faith that is alone and that Christ will
          return to destroy sin and the devils in Hell and to give his beloved ones
          eternal life, body and soul forever.

          • Greg says:

            JOB2001: Of course there is diversity of opinion and dissent in the Catholic Church, there always has been. But amidst those realities, there is organizational, spiritual, and even theological unity. That unity is centered, I believe, on three primary things; 1) The Eucharist, 2) The Creed, and 3) The identification with the Petrine ministry/office. (A close 4th place would be, and related to the Eucharist – the Mass – are the other liturgical and pious traditions of the Church, e.g. the other sacraments, devotion to the Virgin Mary, and other saints, etc.)

            Every Catholic community celebrates the Eucharist. Every Catholic community professes the Nicene or Apostles Creed. And every Catholic community feels, and is tethered to spiritual authority of, and pastoral care from the Bishop of Rome.

            It’s a question of authority. Catholics believe that ecclesial authority on earth rightly belongs primarily to the bishops and the Pope. To put it crassly, in Protestantism, every man is his own scripture scholar. Every man is his own pope.

          • JOB2001 says:

            Respectfully, every Roman Catholic has to exercise his individual and, therefore, private judgment, to listen to the church’s Magisterium, that is, to accept its claim to being authoritative. Furthermore, each individual Roman Catholic has to exercise his private judgment as to what the Magisterium teaches. Thus, there is no advantage over Protestantism and that is before we even address the question of Papal authority and infallibility. Protestants confess what is in the ancient creeds and celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and have an infallible authority to determine all matters of faith and life, the Word of God, that is, the Scriptures. In all this, the Roman Catholic church has no advantage except a formal institutional unity. But being a big tent hardly constitutes the kind of unity the Roman Catholic church pretends to have.

            Beyond that, what good is it to claim apostolic authority when the Roman Catholic church is fundamentally wrong on justification by faith alone, the nature of the ministry, its view of saints and Mary as intercessors and ones who have a treasury of merit to grant by imputation (when Christ is the alone infinite treasury of all merit), its teaching on purgatory, etc., etc. Roman Catholic theology is quite clearly an amalgam of Scripture, the Old Testament ceremonial system (which Christ abolished by fulfilling it), and pagan views of religion. When Scott Hahn declares the Decrees of the Council of Trent to be infallible and binding on all Roman Catholics and argues the same, he is exercising his private judgment. Other Roman Catholic scholars, exercising theirs, disagree. “Nulla salus extra ecclesium est,” therefore, if you value your salvation and eternal, leave the Roman Catholic church and join with a Protestant catholic church.

          • Greg says:

            I’ll let yours be the final word in our discussion.

  2. jeff says:

    So basically you are upset that people are willing to think for themselves instead of getting indoctrinated by some top down hierarchy. I guess that is worrisome if you are at the top of that hierarchy and afraid to lose control. But this change is liberating for those that want to wrestle with issues of faith and morality without the encumbrance of being trapped in a black and white box.

    • fredx2 says:

      When “thinking for yourself” means coming to laughable conclusions, such as Vine, then “thinking for yourself” has taken on a new meaning – “becoming less educated by falling for specious arguments”

      • VirginiaJeff says:

        Whether Vine is right or wrong, it would behoove you to remember the many other laypersons who thought for themselves and came to “laughable” conclusions, including: Galileo, William Tyndale, abolitionists, suffragists, etc.

    • Greg Paley says:

      Who says you are “thinking for yourself”?
      Repeating gay propaganda does not make you an independent thinker.

    • Tiger says:

      Speaking of “being trapped in a black and white box,” I’ve been told by certain “Christians” that I am a horrible person for taking a stand for marriage and morality. Apparently sodomy is OK with these “Christians,” you can sodomize lots of guys and still be a Christian (they say), but I’ve been told I will go to hell for being “judgmental” toward sodomy.

      So, worry about your own “black and white box” before you tackle someone else’s.

      • David says:

        Tiger – don’t let those people get to you; they are not worth the time. I was under attack for exposing nonsense at the former university I went to as well, but you know something – in the end God has the final say. The people who attacked you don’t seem to get the fact that it is not you doing the judging at all – God made that judgement call millenia ago, and the Church has upheld it. If they have a problem with you stating fact, just tell them their fight is with Christ and His Church then, because Christ gave us those standards.

    • Marty says:

      As a rule, anyone who says “People should think for themselves” really means “People should all think like ME!”

  3. Magnus Elric-William says:

    I think that what Mr. Gingrich as well as others of similar mind set are trying to point out is that without core beliefs and common interpretation we face the possibility that Christianity will become so diverse as to eventually become irrelevant in the future. If we don’t stand as a group and say that at least on some issues of interpretation and understanding we agree then we become so divided that we cannot stand

  4. polistra24 says:

    All seminaries that go by the name of “seminary” have long ago surrendered completely to Satan. The name has been fully flipped. When I hear that someone has graduated from a “seminary”, I know with 100% certainty that he’s 100% Satan.

    What we need now is a theological college that serves God, which would have to be retronymed. It would be called an anti-seminary. Or a Xprwoty or a Smptnick or a Bzotper or any old word besides seminary.

  5. VirginiaJeff says:

    What snobbery. Gingerich would have fit right in with the Teachers of the Law, the Sadducees, and other religiously educated elites through the ages who spoke patronizingly of the masses.

    William Tyndale gave his life translating the Bible in order to “cause a boy that driveth the plough to know more of the scripture than” the Pope and the rest of the church hierarchy. Now here’s Gingerich, whining that common folk are daring to disagree with his learning and that of his fellow seminary graduates!

    • VirginiaJeff says:

      (Correction: Gingerich’s biography indicates he hasn’t graduated from seminary yet.)

    • David Christie says:

      It’s one thing to question established thought. It is quite another to go against established thought and then get bent out of shape when called on it.

      • ken says:

        LOL
        I think there’s a close connection between the two. Heresy, followed by hissyfit – hey, it transformed academia into a bastion of Political Correctness, and the liberal churches too.

      • VirginiaJeff says:

        LOL. You mean like when Martin Luther went against established thought? I’m not bent out of shape. I’m calling Gingerich out on his false teaching that overemphasizes theological elites over ordinary believers. Jesus just isn’t that hard to understand.

  6. David MacKenzie says:

    This is a very cogent article, with some interesting and pithy quips, and accurately describes a lot of difficulty within the theological context of North America.

  7. Orton1227 says:

    Ah, yes, remember when Jesus sent the disciples to seminary before sending them out to proclaim the gospel and found the Church? I believe they each tied for Valedictorian.

  8. Orton1227 says:

    And really, I believe CS Lewis, JI Packer, AW Tozer, Martin Lloyd-Jones all lacked formal training. And they are some of the brightest, most influential Christians ever.

    Really this is about power and control. You’re trying to filter & weed out problems before they exist, but the issue is that it will also filter out brilliant thinkers like the ones listed above.

    Perhaps we should teach more prominently the idea that we should be as the Bereans were. They received the teaching from Paul & Silas and searched the Scriptures to see if it was truth. Teach those under you influence and in your life to do the same with twitter comments.

    • Holgrave says:

      C.S. Lewis: one of the smartest and most erudite men of the 20th century. His primary credentials were in English literature though, so he explicitly disclaimed ecclesiastical authority in his theological works.

      J.I. Packer: Studied theology at an Oxford seminary and was ordained as an Anglican priest.

      D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: Educated as a physician, he did not approve of the public seminary system but ended up founding one more to his liking.

      • VirginiaJeff says:

        None of the people Gingerich complains about has claimed ecclesiastical authority.

      • Mike S says:

        I don’t know about Lloyd-Jones, but Lewis was trained in more than just English Literature. His first Oxford degree was in Greats – the study of ancient literature and philosophy. He was more of a medievalist, than strictly speaking someone who was educated in English literature. While he refused to call himself a professional theologian, he read more theology than most seminarians could ever hope to. I think he relished being able to say what he wanted to say, with the “protection” of not being “official.”
        Packer was educated at Oxford, but I don’t believe that there is strictly speaking a seminary at Oxford. Could be wrong about that. I think he was educated at Corpus Christ College, but I could be wrong.

    • Charlie Harris says:

      “CS Lewis, JI Packer, AW Tozer, Martin Lloyd-Jones”, all contributed, and are contributing still, to the “defense of the faith once delivered to the saints”. The criticism of the books and blogs in question, here, is (as I interpret it) that they are subversive.

      RHE’s pattern appears to be that of a professional (or, at least zealous hobbyist) controversialist, not a reformer.

    • Alastair J Roberts says:

      First of all, most of the people mentioned were very highly-educated. Even those without formal training in theology itself had deeply honed academic instincts and were lifelong students of theology, whose works amply demonstrate that they were qualified thinkers. Anyone acquainted with the writing of these figures should appreciate the vast gulf that lies between their thought and much of the pablum produced by today’s batch of Christian bloggers.

      Second, the figures that you mention manifested a profound grasp of the Christian faith in its totality and most of their writing was devoted to displaying and exploring that. Figures such as Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Vines are known, by sharp contrast, for their pet peeves and issues. Held Evans is a mouthpiece of egalitarianism and Christian feminism and Vines a mouthpiece of support for practising gay Christians. They major on controversial matters and devote little time by contrast to the exploring of the vast territory of Christian truth. I don’t doubt that Rachel Held Evans and Matthew Vines have read a great deal on their areas of particular concern, but I don’t see much evidence that they are well read in the broader field of Christian theology beyond this. And this lack of breadth really manifests itself in their treatment of their pet issues.

      Third, part of the reason for this narrowness of focus has to do with the fact that figures like Matthew Vines and Rachel Held Evans are largely mavericks without accountability or responsibility to institutions. Packer, Tozer, and Lloyd-Jones had to be men of breadth because they were pastors or heads of institutions of theological study. They had to know their Bibles inside out, because most of them taught through the Bible ever week. Lewis taught in Oxford, in a context of the most rigorous intellectual discourse and debate, where you are expected to be able to defend all dimensions of your position, not just your pet concerns, and are exposed to and expected to engage with the most articulate and considered forms of opposing positions.

      Fourth, beyond their style of writing, honed academic and theological instincts, and standards and manner of discourse, another thing that set apart the previous generations of Christian writers that you are mentioning is that they generally wrote as mature voices of orthodoxy in their forties to sixties, not as fêted self-appointed theological mavericks moving away from the tradition of the Church in their twenties and early thirties. Our evangelical culture increasingly prematurely propels immature persons to positions of great influence, without first submitting them as apprentices to older, wiser leaders or, for that matter, to any institution at all.

      Finally, because it is so commonly brought up, let me tackle the Berean thing. People—generally independent evangelicals—have this romantic notion of the Bereans as a group of studious individuals who all individually studied their individual study Bibles to see whether Paul and Silas were correct. Presumably if they had blogs, they would have been debating it online in a spiritually egalitarian manner. Unfortunately, this is a fairly nonsensical reading. The Bereans were in fact a synagogue of the Jews (Acts 17:10). It is quite possible that they only had one copy of the (Old Testament) Scriptures between them. Many wouldn’t have been able to read them at all, even in translation. The word for ‘examined’ is one suggesting a more formal, legal-like process. What this probably involved was a daily assembly of members of the synagogue community, with a trained reader bringing forth evidence from the synagogue’s copies of the Scriptures in an extended communally witnessed cross-examination of Paul and Silas’ teaching by the synagogue’s leaders. This is a very, very far cry from the idea that our discourse should be about every Christian with their personal Bible and their personal blog.

  9. Peter says:

    Gingerich’s post is one of many attempting to assign blame in the hemorrhaging of the US church of recent years and decades. And hemorrhage it has, though in terms of numbers alone perhaps less recently than in the 90s or so. Just before he died in 1984, theologian and thinker Francis Schaeffer noted the terrible spiritual decline he had witnessed in the US of the then-previous forty years. And surely matters have worsened since.

    Overall there seems no shortage of targets and reasons for blame–even more in number and variety than Gingerich’s post addresses. The chagrin seems a sign of life, at least, among those who love God’s church, that is among a shrinking remnant.

    But there are also reasons for hope. (1) The growth of God’s kingdom is often not newsworthy or notable. Repentance and its fruits often mean things run well enough to ignore in favor of attending to the next firestorm or crisis. (2) The church in the US is not the whole of the church of Jesus. A missionary friend views the church in other nations he visits–even concerning churches of reformed variety–as more lively and holy and hopeful than in the US. A Christian school near us is increasingly populated by Asians rather than the traditional Caucasians. (3) Jesus promised to build His church. And He once reserved 7,000 who had not bent the knee to Baal, in seeming contradiction to Elijah’s previous observation.

    Does it seem likely that an institution that has lasted two millenia–with institutional antecedents a couple millenia before that–is likely to evaporate and be forgotten starting in our generation? The church has always faced battles internal and external to itself, sometimes with threats to its survival. Yet survive and sometimes revive it has.

    In my view, the church of Byzantium has not recovered from Muslim invasions more or less ending five centuries ago. France seems not to have recovered spiritually from the French Revolution, or for that matter from the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of two centuries before the Revolution. Perhaps the church in the US is slated to become like these fearful examples.

    Yet Eastern Orthodox churches remain in varied quarters. Many Hugenots moved elsewhere. Even Quebec had a revival in the 1970s. Who knows where the spiritual great-grandchildren of the present US church will be?

  10. Jack Somers says:

    Very keen observation. The church is not immune to the democratization of…everything…thanks to the Internet.

    I think the Internet should be viewed as a tool, which some are using rightly and others not. If Johnny Doe thinks his pastor and a random layman hold the same spiritual authority over them simply because they both have a Twitter account (and the laymen has more followers), that is not the Internet’s fault, that is Johnny’s fault.

    However, I think if a pastor knows his congregation is highly concerned with and being influenced by theological debates online (such as Vines’ book on homosexuality), that pastor ought to talk about the elephant in the room from the pulpit (and his Twitter account, should he have one), and not mince words. Heretics spouting an anti-Gospel need to be refuted loud and clear as wrong, and enemies of God and His church. They are not a part of the “larger debate within Evangelicalism” (not quoting anyone here), they are wolves in sheep’s clothing attacking the flock. They are not Christians.

    Now, to talk about the less formally trained or those with no seminary degree who now have much greater sway within Christianity than ever before, I think it’s important to narrow down the issue. There is nothing wrong with someone not having a seminary degree and being a pastor or church leader. I found this link helpful (full disclosure: I know nothing of this site, nor did I read all of the article, however, he does list several pertinent passages of Scripture): http://www.biblicalresearchreports.com/seminaryeducation.php

    I guess what I’m getting at is someone should hold more theological authority if they are a church pastor/elder, not if they have a degree or not. If they are a pastor/elder, and have no degree, they still hold a biblical position of teacher/preacher. If they are NOT an elected/ordained church leader, yet DO have a degree, that doesn’t mean as much to me. If they haven’t been examined biblically and elected/ordained to be a pastor/teacher, they simply shouldn’t try and be that within the Church (online or off). There is a reason God set up a way to determine pastors/elders. And I suppose congregants need to be reminded of that.

    I think the issue you are getting at also stems from the fact that communication and community within The Church (Christianity/”Evangelicalism”) now operates on a national or world level (much like people’s thinking about government, hobby groups, etc), whereas before the Internet, people associated Christianity more with their local church. People discussed the issues of the day and the Faith with their small group at church, in Sunday School, or on Wednesday night, and if church members really wanted an authoritative answer on something, they asked their Sunday School teacher or Pastor. Now, people are engaging in that same type thing online with people they don’t know, and gleaning authoritative answers from the “Evangelical” rockstars on Twitter and blogs. And those rockstars may or may not be local church leaders (elected by their church and held under biblical accountability).

    I could be wrong but I see the same thing happening politically in America. Young people concerned with politics used to concern themselves more with local politics. Now, online, on both the left and the right, there is this feeling of concern for where the national parties are going, what the issues are and our stances on them, and who the leaders are. Technology is enabling many things to move to a national scale (healthcare, social security, national ID card), whereas previously it only made sense to handle those issues locally.

    Primarily, it’s the mindset of the people (mainly under 35) I am getting at. Sites like Drudge Report, Upworthy, Free Republic, Daily Kos; they all have this sense of people concerned about big national political issues – all enabled by technology. Half their under 30 readers probably don’t know who their mayor or local sheriff is, but they do have their 10 reasons for/against national healthcare nailed down. Much the same is happening within Christianity. People are not thinking as locally.

    So, as always, the Church must commit to examining the Scriptures and to operating as an organization biblically. I hope local pastors will call out online heretics if they know their congregations are being exposed to them, just like they would refute “offline” heretics. When I read the Apostles Paul and John, they do not mince words about false teachers, and I believe they would do the same today.

    Thanks for the thoughtful article.

    Jack Somers
    http://JackSomers.com

    • Peter says:

      Studies in social media interactions so far as I have taken the time to grasp them seem to find–among other things–a pattern of ideological “regionalism” rather than geographical delimitation (even if the two correspond at some notable percentage of the time).

      Social conservative talk to social conservative. Social progressives talk to social progressives. And “never the twain shall meet”–well, not never, but relatively infrequently. And so on in terms of ideologies, sub-cultural homogeneity, topical preference (e.g., hobbies), worldview and so on.

      Social media “birds of a feather” tend to flock together when the birds are Christians of one stripe or another too. One might say we are doing that here, not that we are all entirely uniform in our perspectives.

      So one might say Christian-ish social media (by which I intend to include forums and blogs) facilitates things that overlap with legit church functions, such as teaching, exhortation, and encouragement.

      Yes, there is chaff with the wheat, but my point is more along the lines of the positives and negatives of Christian social media in relation to the church. It ain’t all good or all bad.

      “Bad” aspects seem to include deficiencies of structure (in comparing social media to the local, face-to-face church) to institute disciplinary action where warranted (save perhaps the potential for online warnings and, where facilitated by software, banning of user names and passwords for egregious offenders, but such mirrors of church discipline would seem incomplete).

      Perhaps more germane in regarding Christian social media as a partial surrogate for or support to the church is deficiency of accountability. Dropping out of conversation online is easier than not showing up at church, or put another way, relatively anonymous and ad hoc discipleship efforts facilitated by the internet do not well capture the long term accountability between limited numbers of people that the local church facilitates naturally. Jesus chose only twelve disciples, and I’d like to say jokingly that the rest were fans or the contrary.

      An online academic course in something Christian might approach church accountability more closely, though for legal and cultural reasons at least in the US, not closely enough.

      And on the flip side, online discipleship efforts, however transient or incidental, give potential disciples access to good Christians that local isolation would prevent.

      Yes, the potential for misguidance is there too (as in the Evans case), but has false teaching not also been around since long before the internet? And are not popular online deviations from orthodoxy and orthopraxy among Christians-broadly-considered in the US not only a cause of church decline, but also a symptom of it?

      For example in the US, do not anti-supernaturalistic explanations of origins (hence no substantive accountability to God), postmodernist dogma against exclusivist truth claims, anti-hierarchical egalitarianism (necessitating that some animals are more equal than others), hedonism, and threat of lawsuit before “the world” (in John’s terms) each contribute to the pressure against the church to discipline its members? And are not such pressures ubiquitous, regardless of geographic locale or access to the internet?

      Yet if Providence ordains social conservative groups (etc.) cohere online and off, cannot God still build His church despite and because of the internet?

      • Jack Somers says:

        Absolutely God can (and will!) build his church. The internet is not going to change that. In my comment, I was mostly being descriptive – not prescriptive.

        However, I did say “So, as always, the Church must commit to examining the Scriptures and to operating as an organization biblically.”

        I see no reason why a local church couldn’t use the internet like we’ve been using telephones, letters, email, electricity, etc. for so long. The internet is just another tool, another technology – even though it is the most complex, disruptive, revolutionary one yet. However, God will still build his church, because the body of Christ will never die.

  11. Russ Dewey says:

    Oddly enough, my comment, which I thought was calm and non-hostile and reasonably thought out, was quickly deleted. Maybe it was a quirk. I’ll try again with minor changes. I am making a simple point but it bears directly on Bart’s thesis. Here goes:

    People in traditional cultures all over the world are facing the same problem. The struggles within Judaism and Islam are very similar, although the background assumptions about what constitutes the eternal and fixed truth are different. When young people get on the internet, they find a world of options. They see evidence of non-crazy people believing different things, and (was this the trigger that got my post deleted?) they may see what some would call evidence for evolution or the Big Bang. This all tends to undermine any authority claiming exclusive truth and implicitly saying everybody else is untruthful.

    I submit that perceived obsolescence of old assumptions is the flip side of change. The “problem” (some see it as the opposite of a problem) is that change is happening faster than ever before in the history of the human race. It is accelerating mostly because of information technologies and their influences. Therefore one sees a “clash with modernity” in different versions in every single society all over the world.

    What might happen (IMHO) is that fundamentalists in each religion will find that the best route to survival is to retreat into groups who protect themselves from outside influence (see the Amish and UltraOrthodox Jews).

    Meanwhile a global culture based on science and information technology is likely to become more and more familiar to the world’s young. We live in interesting times. Is that a curse or a blessing?

  12. MorganGuyton says:

    So once again, ad hominem instead of substantive engagement from the IRD. So intellectually lazy.

  13. Greg Paley says:

    I have to give Rachel Evans credit, for a no-talent hack writer who wrote a decidedly un-Christian and anti-Christian book (from an evangelical publisher), she managed to extend her 15 minutes of fame – by shamelessly playing to the gay crowd, who will absolutely adore an apostate evangelical. Rachel, maybe some of your numerous gay admirers will teach you one of the terms from the gay lexicon, it rhymes with “rag bag.”

    When you stand before Almighty God, see how much of the applause from your gay admirers will avail you.

    • VirginiaJeff says:

      What do you think God will say about your bigoted joking?

      • Tiger says:

        Use the word “bigoted” and the debate ends, right?

        Sorry, doesn’t work that way.

        • VirginiaJeff says:

          It’s not the side of the debate that reveals Paley’s bigotry. It’s his sarcastic allusion to a crude slang term, which he used to insult Evans. (Not to mention his gleeful passing of Divine Judgment.)

          • This was a cruel and hate-filled comment that invokes the equivalent of the n-word in talking about gay and lesbian people. One need not affirm gay marriage to speak about our fellow human beings with basic respect and kindness.

            “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” – 1 John 4:7-8

            If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.- I Corinthians 13

            “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” – Matthew 5:22

            For all the supposed knowledge and understanding on this blog, I haven’t seen an ounce of love.

          • Greg Paley says:

            You played the race card, which doesn’t surprise me at all. Low and cheap.

            Quote all the love verses from the Bible that you want, you clearly have no conception that speaking the truth is an indispensable element of love. “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

            Who do you think has a better understanding of the will of God – Paul the apostle, whose writings make up a huge part of the New Testament, or some ex-evangelical writer in the 21st century, who appeared on The View and will spend the rest of her life chasing after the approval of unbelievers? I’m throwing in my lot with Paul. You choose the easy way – conform to the world. Christian is a demanding religion, as Jesus made clear. The weakminded and those with the herd instinct cannot handle it.

            Thomas Nelson has sunk very low in promoting an author who thinks that those five dimwits on The View and a gaggle of homosexuals on your blog are more important than God. It’s clear that Nelson has chosen to serve Mammon rather than God.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Greg, your hateful words about gay people, and about Rachel, make plain that you are no follower of Jesus. You are of your father, the devil.

          • Greg Paley says:

            Sorry, I’ve gotten immunized against the word “hateful” coming from the left, I wear it as a badge of honor.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Of course you do. You embrace your sin.

          • hankhank1 says:

            Dude you called her a fag hag, and you have the audacity to call her low and cheap? That is simply deranged.

            Nothing you say has any sort of moral authority, because your petty and crude nature as revealed in your comments here robs me of any Impetus to take you seriously, even if I agree with you! That’s incredibly embarrassing for you, utterly shameful to your cause. Do better next time.

          • Greg Paley says:

            Dude, you need a chill pill. It’s a holiday, no time to be in a self-righteous snit.

            I gather a cult has developed around this author, as indicated by the 5-star reviews of her books on Amazon, so brief that it’s clear the person never actually read the books. (The one- and two-star reviews are quite detailed, on the other hand.) Forming a cult around any author is unhealthy and decidedly unChristian. Standing around holding a broom with a spatula attached to it is not much of a case for wielding any sort of authority among Christians, so this cult thing is obviously a case of gays getting all excited because some writer claiming to be Christian is telling them that Christianity’s 2000-year-old sexual standards are out of date.

            If you don’t own a Bible, you can access them online. Hit that New Testament and notice how much of it is devoted to correcting and admonishing Christians. This is a Christian duty, not some personal vendetta. Regarding your charge that I have no “moral authority,” you are quite wrong, I’ve got the whole Bible and 2000 years of Christian ethical teaching backing me up. If you don’t like what I said, your argument is with Christianity, not with me.

          • Simple Man says:

            “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.” Not condoning what was said, but you are far less than loving in your stance toward gay Christians yourself so don’t try to take the high road… You will have to answer one day for encouraging / condoning behaviour that will exclude individuals from the Kingdom.

          • Carlos says:

            If you have some issues with “gleeful passing of Divine Judgment,” you must have issues with Jesus, because He sure talked about it – a LOT.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            If you’re intent on copying the “Judgment” aspect of Jesus, then you should remember He aimed the vast majority of His condemnation at the conservative church leaders and other theological elites of His day.

          • Namyriah says:

            No kidding? Isn’t it the strangest coincidence that the whole purpose of the New Testament is to bash conservative Christians in the 21st century?

            Hard to know what to make of people who read the Bible only to find verses they can clobber evangelicals with.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Hard to know what to make of people who claim to love Jesus, but who emulate Jesus’ critics from 2,000 years ago.

          • David Christie says:

            Hard to know what to make of people who claim to love Jesus willfully allow people to sin their way out of Salvation just so they don’t have to be the bad guy.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            If you were talking about the way Christian leaders suck up to the rich, you’d have a point. But since we’re talking about a tiny minority of long-despised people, you don’t.

          • David Christie says:

            He did, but it was for their arrogance and power seeking. Had they been upholding the law as it should have been, they would have been fine.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            The law said the adulteress was to be stoned. It said lepers weren’t to be touched. You are quite wrong.

          • RocketRodCub says:

            Those church leaders were lost Pharisees and far from the kingdom. Are you saying that all of those commenting against your view are lost? Are you saying that they are hateful? If so, then you are guilty of judging as well, so it appears (and hopefully not hatred). The Apostle John, who was known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” categorically threw those who practice unrighteousness OUT of the kingdom.They are not born of God; they are in darkness; they are liars. Nice guy that loving John! In his first epistle, he provided three tests for inclusion into the kingdom of God: 1. Believing right doctrine (or truth/the doctrinal test) 2. Loving others (the social test) 3. Purity of life (living righteously/the moral test). When “love” (especially in the guise of social righteousness, as opposed to moral righteousness) trumps truth (sex defined within God’s parameters – male and female, in marriage only) as well as purity (sexual purity in this case), it fails the test. According to the loving Apostle John, “the one who says ‘I know Him’ but does not do what He commands is a liar and the truth is not in him.” (2:4). Also, “Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning.” (3:7-8). To use “love” as an argument both to defend and to attempt to defeat the arguments of truth and righteousness is an imbalanced Christianity. The liberals have been doing this, much to their demise, for well over a century. Doctrine matters. Doctrine, or true orthodoxy, is expressed in love and Christ-filled love results in orthopraxy, i.e. a life lived in obedience to Scripture. Homosexual practice is neither doctrinally correct or a life that “does what is right.” Therefore. it is not righteous. John, the loving disciple, tells you what else he thinks about unrighteous living. Throw him under the bus as a conservative church leader and theological elite of his day if you wish! I’m sure that he was. And inspired by Jesus at that! Throw me under the bus with him. Christians are called to love everyone, no matter what their sexual orientation or practice. Nevertheless, they are also called to proclaim historic Scriptural truth and to turn the nations to the King of Righteousness, who wants righteous followers, no matter who might persecute them for doing so. Call me a Pharisee. Call me a bigot. Call me old fashioned. Call me a fundamentalist. Call me unloving. Judge me as judgmental. It’s the cost of following Jesus. And if i don’t cave into the popular sentiment of this day and become conformed to this world (Romans 12:1-2), the cost is only going to increase. “Lord Jesus, prepare your servants for following You as the darkness grows and eclipses Your Light on earth. Amen.”

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            My, you prattle on and on exactly like a Pharisee.

          • RocketRod says:

            What a silly response. Read the “Sermon on the Mount.” It is quite longer and I guess “prattling on” in your opinion. You provided no answers to the point.

      • Greg Paley says:

        Let me worry about that. I’ve said nothing I’m ashamed of. Also, I don’t know what “joking” you refer to, I’m quite serious.

    • hankhank1 says:

      Holy good God, insinuating someone is a “fag-hag” gets applause from conservative Christians? Who are you people? What is wrong with you?

  14. Cory says:

    I would agree wholeheartedly with the premise of this article. However on a finer point, I think that where it states the liberal evangelicals are less organized group, that is in fact what they used to be. Now, however, they have become more organizedand infiltrated the very hierarchy of the church. This is what breeds distrust in the institutions as well. Where the liberal Christians used to be distrustful of the institution, they have now taken it over. We as conservative evangelical now find ourselves on the outside.

  15. Tiger says:

    Bart, your article is excellent. However, in my experience, seminary is neither a plus nor minus when it comes to orthodoxy – the left-wing seminaries (which are all shrinking) have been churning out left-wing clones for years, while orthodox seminaries like Asbury and Fuller graduate orthodox clergy. There are indications that even these may be tilting to the left, especially Fuller. Seminaries can be good or bad – one thing we know from history: they are NOT essential to the progress of Christianity. Looking at my own shelf of Christian books that I re-read often, very few seminary grads there.

    If Bob has an MDiv, that doesn’t tell me a thing about his orthodoxy. I do agree with Dante and C. S. Lewis – there will be plenty of apostate clergy in hell.

  16. It’s interesting that in an article intended to insult me and my readers as unintelligent I see no actual engagement of my work, or Matthew’s work, but rather a string of ad hominem attacks, which has become par for the course for recent detractors. Neither Matthew nor I ever claim to present totally original scholarship, but rather cite our sources and then make their work accessible to our readers. I have many seminarians, pastors, and scholars who read and contribute to my blog, and they are joined with regular laypeople who are not, in fact, the idiots you make them out to be but rather thoughtful, engaged, and compassionate followers of Jesus who should be treated with dignity and respect. Perhaps the reason they are drawn to my blog is because I don’t insult them. Or perhaps it’s because my theology (however incomplete, however imperfect) has not made me cruel.

    • Wes says:

      It looks to me like “engagement” of your conclusions regarding homosexuality and the Church is beyond the scope of this blog post–the author is criticizing how you and others go about coming to your conclusions rather than the conclusions themselves. Granted, I don’t know much about Mr. Gingerich’s thoughts on that issue aside from what I can learn from this post. While it appears that he would disagree with yours and Vines’s conclusions, it doesn’t seem that that’s the argument he’s making here.

      Instead, he’s saying that the “Evangelical Left” forms and disseminates its theology outside of the church and seminary institutions that have traditionally overseen such discussions. Maybe he’s right, maybe he’s wrong. But that’s the issue you should be addressing when you respond to him–not whether or not he addresses the substance of your arguments. That’s not what he set out to do here.

      Interestingly, even though you ungraciously characterize his argument as “insulting” you and your readers as “unintelligent” “idiots” (words he never uses and an accusation that I don’t think can fairly be ascribed to this post), your response does exhibit one of his more blunt critiques: that your practices are “academically undisciplined.” Fair discourse with an academically disciplined opponent would not include red herrings (criticizing a lack of engagement on subjects beyond the scope of the discussion) or intentional mischaracterization of your opponent’s argument (turning “academically undisciplined” into “unintelligent,” “idiotic,” and “cruel”).

      • VirginiaJeff says:

        Gingerich clearly labeled 10s of millions of people as the “low-attention-span generation, which eschews dense reading and complex
        arguments.” Adding that “young evangelicals have been raised in a culture that
        discourages good intellectual habits….” It is NOT unreasonable for Evans to summarize Gingerich as conveying that he believes the masses are “unintelligent” and “idiotic.”

        Regardless, the red herrings belong to Gingerich. He clearly is suggesting that only trained theologians, answerable to higher authorities, should be publicly discussing such matters. That not only is bad logic, it is anti-Christ.

        • Wes says:

          No; “low attention span,” “eschew[ing] dense reading and complex arguments,” and poor “intellectual habits” suggest lazy thinking, which is a trait that people can overcome if they chose to. What these accusations do not suggest is that RHE and her followers are “idiotic,” since idiocy is an immutable trait.

          Unsurprisingly, you and Rachel demonstrate the exact same intellectual laziness Gingerech condemns by equating his arguments against sloppy thinking to accusations of inherent idiocy.

          Furthermore, while the merits of democratic theology is something worth discussing, any accusation that those who believe such discussions should be supervised by theologians or other authorities are “anti-Christ” is patently ridiculous.

          Thank you for proving Mr. Gingerich’s point.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            You’re playing superficial semantic games rather than dealing honestly with Christ and His teaching.. Thank you for proving RHE’s point. And mine.

  17. Jen Reeves says:

    “As one of my friends pointed out to me, Evans in particular is the
    perfect writer for this low-attention-span generation which eschews dense reading and complex arguments.”

    Interesting. For someone who prioritizes a scholarly approach, you have made one sweepingly negative generalization about millions and millions of people here (your source: a friend!).

    I get it. You disagree with Vines and Evans. Maybe you can do yourself and the entire population born between 1980-1995 a favour and stick to the argument.

  18. Kimberly says:

    What I find interesting is the accusation that only a “low-attention-span generation which eschews dense reading and complex arguments” would engage with and dare to agree with RHE and Matthew Vines’ conclusions on various issues.

    Yet what I see from so many post-evangelicals (myself included) is that they are leaving the church in droves not because *they* are afraid to engage with complex arguments, but because the American church as a whole is. We want something more than “because the Bible says so” or “because my pastor believes/preaches this”. I see a much greater willingness to embrace complexity and to live in the gray areas (of which there really are oh-so-very many) from this generation than I ever have from the traditionally theologically trained.

    And maybe that is really the crux of the problem. Perhaps the issue really is whether someone could honestly, earnestly, and thoughtfully engage both issues and Biblical texts and come to a different conclusion than the author and other current evangelical leaders. Because if that is true, that is some serious gray area, and I know from experience how scary the gray areas can be.

    • Peter says:

      I am interested that your comments seem to confirm what I have read elsewhere concerning (1) Gen–oh, what is the letter? … ‘grew up with the internet and tech devices–is handicapped in sustained thought AND (2) that said generation is leaving the church because it lacks intellectually satisfying answers. Unfortunately I don’t recall my sources, but your expressed opinion seems confirmation of them. Curious, but hardly impossible.

      It isn’t that intellectually rigorous answers are not available, its just that they are not readily available in many ecclesiastical circles more interested in other things–ironically sometimes, things like wanting to be accepted by ideological outsiders.

      Having passed from atheism to evangelical circles in Massachusetts myself (let us say a generation ago) as one with 19th century New England calvinist roots down at least one branch of the family tree, I have held an open question in my mind why New England largely dropped Puritanism and Congregationalism in favor of Unitarianism and secularism before my time. Harvard, for example, hired its first Unitarian professor around the first decade of the 19th century–more than a century and a half before the death of evangelical Calvinist professor B.B. Warfield at Princeton.

      And I’m not sure I can squeeze a wholly comprehensive and satisfying answer from the historical data (even if I had sufficient documents and energy to do so). Nor am I convinced a thorough and satisfying answer can be fully culled from the present, even if we have theories and hunches like the lack of intellectual satisfaction to theological and social questions, which may be true as a cause as far as it goes.

      In my view, we don’t fully understand divine causality (or shall I write “Causality” with a capital “C”?) behind the means we see or infer in everyday life. Why do we do and believe what we do? Why is the church in Iran or China relatively vibrant and the church in New England languishing, at least to the extent it has been? Why did Harvard and Princeton diverge as above?

      We may point to sociological or biological, intellectual or emotional, conscious or subconscious, circumstantial or deliberate reasons or potential reasons, and these need not be false, at least not all of them. What if one was emotionally abused by a church leader, for example? Or wooed into the church by loving and intellectually honest parents?

      But at the end of the day, mystery remains at the corners and untidy seams. God has all tangible (and other) means at His disposal, if you will temporarily indulge my beliefs, down to the microscopic and up to the cosmic–by which I do not intend to deny human accountability, which I think corresponds rather than conflicts with what we observe. Some believe the gospel, other don’t.

      Perhaps that is a fair place to land for the moment too. We are all of us accountable to God for what we believe and what we do, even if in your shoes I would have done as you and you in my shoes would have done as I–or some shade similar to such scenarios. Belief or non-belief in the gospel engages the intellect, but it also engages the whole person. What we believe and do, for example, engages moral questions.

  19. Carlos says:

    An apropos quote from C. S. Lewis:
    “Get on with your tent-making. The performance of a duty will probably teach you as much about God as academic theology will do.”

  20. Namyriah says:

    One of my favorite C. S. Lewis quotes:
    “Jesus Christ did not say `Go into all the world and tell the world that is is quite right.'”
    Vines, Evans, and their ilk are doing just that. Are you a sexual degenerate? Bless your dear little heart, if the culture is coming around to accepting your sleazy lifestyle, well, we Christians just better get with the program. Instead of telling you to repent of your sins and begin a new life in Christ, we’ll tell you to embrace your sins and sling mud at those nasty Christians and their outmoded morals. There’s a new Jesus in our church, he doesn’t tell the adulterous woman “Go and sin no more,” he gives her a pat on the head and sends her back to her paramour.

    Any religion without “repent, and believe in the gospel” is not Christianity.

    • VirginiaJeff says:

      A gay person is not a “sexual degenerate.” And their sexual orientation is neither “sleazy” nor a “lifestyle.” Nor is being in a committed same-sex relationship remotely comparable to a sin, such as adultery. You are quite wrong.

      • hlj3rd says:

        VJ,

        Saying it over and over doesn’t make it true, nor does getting a bunch of other people to say it with you.

        “Or do you not know that the unrighteous
        will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the
        sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice
        homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And
        such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you
        were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of
        our God.” -I Corinthians 6:9-11

        “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless
        and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and
        profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.” -I Timothy 1:8-11

        There is no gray area on this in Scripture. Never has been, never will be. So either be honest and call the Bible wrong and in the process free yourself from what you probabaly think is unnecessary debate or start closing your mouth and acutally reading and listening to those who have gone before us to hand down the one true faith to us.

        • VirginiaJeff says:

          The Bible is wrong. Saying over and over again that’s it’s perfect and was dictated by God won’t make it true.

          • hlj3rd says:

            Okay, I respect your honesty and at least we know where our fundamental difference lies. I agree with you that no amount of human insistence validates truth claims. Things are either true or not true and it is up to us all to reason together to discover, not create or reinvent, actual truth.

            Just remember that you owe the same grace to us (the inerrantists, reformed, etc.) for our tenacity of beliefs as I/we owe to you and your side if tolerance is part of your creed.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Just remember that if you defame or bully gay people, I will stand up for them tenaciously.

          • hlj3rd says:

            I understand and admire your desire for justice. I assert that disagreement is not de facto defamation, though. It doesn’t help anyone to be so hypersensitive to perceived insult that legitimate engagement is not possible.

          • DD says:

            Why??

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Are you kidding? You really think it’s OK to bully gay people?

      • David Christie says:

        While the terms you quote are up to debate, the gay lifestyle is sexually immoral. Being in a committed same-sex relationship is exactly the same as being in an adulterous one. Adultery is defined as intimate relations with someone to whom you are not married. And I might add that even heterosexual couples that marry for the wrong reasons (cute guy/gal, what can they do for me, etc) are just as wrong. Emotional affairs are included with this. And quite frankly, it doesn’t matter to me one bit if you agree or not. It matters what God says as he is the Creator.

        While Jesus taught us to love our neighbor, we are also to speak the truth in love to keep our neighbor on the right path to salvation. God is a god of Love but he is also Righteous. If you live in one half of that reality, then you are on the wrong side. I have several gay friends that I would do anything in my power for because they are fellow human beings and more importantly, I believe Jesus would want me to. On the other side of the token, I am not going to accept their lifestyle or claim it to be anything other than what it is. Should you choose to do that, then you need to deal honestly with Jesus. From the posts you have made, you love of sin is more important to you. Thankfully for both of us, God will be the one to judge you instead of me. I just pray that you are listening to His call instead of your closest buddies.

        • VirginiaJeff says:

          No, being in a same-sex relationship is not like adultery. Not remotely. Adultery hurts someone else; having a committed same-sex relationship hurts no one.

          And Jesus never said anything against gays. Now you need to deal honestly with the fact that Paul isn’t Jesus, and that the Bible wasn’t handed to us bound in leather and signed “-God.”

          • David Christie says:

            No, but he did tell the adulterous woman to “Go and sin no more”. And yes, same-sex or adultery is the same thing. It’s the same thing as two single heterosexuals “shacking up” without being married. You can’t change the definition of a word just because it doesn’t fit your wishes.

            Also, just because those involved in same-sex unions are both accepting of the situation, it does not mean that it is okay or not harmful to them. If one or both of them are in the relationship for selfish reasons, then at least one of them is being used and there is no love. Same with hetero couples. Outside of a God centered, selfless couple, it’s just mutual stimulation. That is harming them because God made us for much more that getting our jollies by whoever is closest.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Being gay is not about “getting jollies.” And you’ve not shown how being in a committed same-sex relationship is more likely to be harmful to a gay couple than a heterosexual relationship is to straights.

            This is one of those times in history when too many Christians are so upset by new knowledge (in this case, the knowledge that sexual orientation is not chosen) that they can’t react rationally. Such previous failures by the Church include its responses to slavery, heliocentrism, evolution, and the age of the earth. These difficult tests reveal to the world a lack of faith in Christ, as bewildered Church leaders react to challenging new information by spouting draconian Bible edicts and dispensing with all reason and empathy. Each occurrence in our history has been a terrible testimony to the world, and has given the enemies of God occasion to mock us.

          • Ray Bannister says:

            Actually, adultery and a “same-sex relationship” are exactly alike – enjoyable to the people involved in it, but destructive and clearly condemned by God. “This feels good!” can justify anything in the secular world, but that can’t be the Christian standard. Admittedly, the churches helped create the present situation by their condoning of easy divorce.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            No, same-sex marriage is nothing like adultery. And God never said anything about same-sex relationships, just as He never said a man was allowed to beat his slave nearly to death “because the slave is his property.” MEN wrote that, and claimed it was God.

          • Andrew K. says:

            Are you one of those so-called “Red-letter Christians”?

            I’m
            sorry, there’s little point discussing these matters with someone who
            rejects the whole counsel of God. Your problem is far more basic than the same-sex issue.

            Your position is rank heresy and you need to repent of it.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Thankfully, my relationship with Jesus Christ is not dependent on your bibliolatry.

          • Andrew K. says:

            The entire Bible is about Jesus (Luke 24:27). If you reject most of it, you have very little Jesus left with whom to be in a relationship.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            1. Didn’t say I rejected most of it. 2. It’s not all about Jesus. 3. How did those who never saw a Bible come to accept Jesus?

          • Andrew K. says:

            1. What do you accept then, and on what grounds?

            2. Yes it is. Didn’t you read the reference? “Moses and the Prophets” is hendiadys for the whole of the OT. And all the NT is obviously about him.

            3. By hearing and accepting in faith the revelation of God in whatever form it was relayed to them. No one ever said seeing the Bible was necessary for salvation. But rejection of God’s revelation (such as the complete Bible) definitely calls one’s salvation into question.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            1. Do you really think God dictated this passage: “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod … [is] not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.” Exodus 21:20-21 You want to look a black man in the eyes and tell him that?

            2. Prophecy is part of the OT, it’s not all of the OT. You are very mistaken.

            3. (a) Before anything was written down, the salvation of Jesus was related to others in imperfect oral form by imperfect people. No one said, “Welllll, since you’re not perfect, I can’t believe what you’re telling me about Jesus. (b) Calling the complete Bible “God’s revelation” is not biblical, since it was not handed to us bound in leather and signed “-God.” (c) Your bibliolatry has no impact on Jesus and His salvation of me.

          • Andrew K. says:

            http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/abraham-kuyper-was-a-heretic-too

            Praying that God opens your eyes to His Truth.

          • VirginiaJeff says:

            Don’t take God’s name in vain in order to win an argument. I despise that.

  21. Dave Satterlee says:

    As much as I disagree with Vine and Evans, surely you are not saying we would do better with informing the laity less, and returning to church councils to tell them what to believe?

    • hlj3rd says:

      Dave,
      I think what Bart was saying was that the people he used as examples are actually not more informed, yet are being heard by wide audiences nonetheless and promoting their uninformed views. I agree with that stance and think the phenomenon has kicked off a race to the bottom of cultural and theological discourse among the “no child left behind” generation.

      Of course, I might be wrong on this, as I frequently am on other issues.

  22. wmrharris says:

    Ironies abound. The complaint about smooth talkers is uttered on a blog, itself with rhetorical turns. The complaint of the rise of the Anti-Seminary is uttered by some one with B.A. from Patrick Henry, now a seminarian. Oh my. There is a legitimate concern underneath all the folderol, but its one that needs seasoning, wisdom and prudence.

  23. BigMikeLewis says:

    Very good. Let us not forget (and forgive me if I missed it; you may have said it) that we even have folks with many degrees and years of education who are touting this stuff.

  24. Vince Talley says:

    Consider two great evangelists who worked together and admired each other:
    D. L. Moody, with no formal theological training,
    and
    R. A. Torrey, alumnus of Yale Divinity School and the University of Leipzig.

  25. Mike S says:

    Completely missing from the comments is any kind of interaction with the polity problem which Gingerich points to in evangelicalism. This is not a problem of theological training, or lack there of. It is about the fact that evangelicals have no way to limit error in an ecclesial structure which recognizes no structure higher than the congregation. This is the American evangelical’s lack of any real ecclesiology.

  26. Alastair J Roberts says:

    A few thoughts, offered in the context of broad agreement:

    1. I believe that there is a degree of unclarity in reference in this article. To what extent is it about the Millennial generation, progressive evangelicals/evangelical left, evangelicals more generally, or the younger generation of evangelicals in particular? When it is pointed out that ‘young evangelicals have been raised in a culture that discourages good intellectual habits,’ whatever culpability they have for their deficient forms of reasoning, surely the primary fault lies with those who did the raising. Those doing the raising were not Millennials and were generally not progressive evangelicals. The results of this cultural formation are undoubtable profoundly deficient. However, I fear that we may be in danger of focusing too much upon the persons produced by this formation that disagree with us and fail to give the same attention to the fact that our ranks are full of such people too.

    2. The attention that this post brings to the structural problems is important. However, the accountability structures mentioned have never existed to the same degree for evangelicals (since when have evangelicals had ‘diocesan bishops, synods, and councils’?). Rather, the last few generations have witnessed a rise in media and social forms that give full rein to the populist, democratic, anti-hierarchical, and spiritual egalitarian (every Christian’s view is equally valid) instincts that have existed within evangelicalism more or less since the beginning. While such instincts existed alongside many other instincts that served to check and counterbalance them, many of the limiting factors were accidental and, with the rise of new media and social forms, these limits start to fall away. The current forms of society and its media radically empower anti-hierarchical instincts over others.

    The burgeoning parachurch and the gradual movement of traditional functions of the Church into the world of the parachurch, where structures of Church discipline and accountability are less effective, is one of the problems here. So, for instance, as you observe, the Church’s task of theological education of people for ministry is taken over by parachurch bodies beyond its auspices. Much teaching today is received by means of an ungoverned parachurch, through its various ministries, institutions, publishing houses, etc.

    Without the same robust institutional and structural form that other traditions in the Church possess, evangelicalism often lacks the means to maintain the necessarily elite and hierarchical character of a healthy theological and ecclesiastical discourse. When the conversation is open to all comers, it is hard to maintain standards of excellence and criteria of qualification. Everyone feels entitled to an opinion, even the grossly misinformed and uneducated. Evangelicalism has always been a movement dominated by and forged around charismatic personalities, whereas other traditions are more shaped by shared liturgical forms, the authority of a dogmatic, confessional, and creedal tradition, institutional structures, and a healthy hierarchy. The structural problems may be exacerbated in progressive evangelicalism, but they are hardly unique to it.

    Evangelicalism was always going to be in trouble when the means of self-publication were spread to the masses and the general monopoly of the pulpit upon the dispensing of theological opinion started to crumble. At least as long as the pulpit held sway, some general standards of theological training could—rather unevenly—be maintained as prerequisites for access to it and there was more hope of a mature conversation. Besides, without a clear understanding of the authority of the pastorate, many regard the ‘authority’ of the pastor to be little more than the authority of a well-informed theological opinion. Whatever can be said in criticism of Rachel Held Evans, Matthew Vines, and their ilk—and much can and should be said, much along the lines of this post—they are much more informed than many pastors bloviating from pulpits. If a pastor’s authority rests solely upon how well-informed his theological opinion is, when his theological opinion is revealed not to be well-informed at all, authority swiftly crumbles with it.

    3. The idea that our discourse should cater for the lowest common denominator isn’t exactly new. What is new is the greater difficulty of maintaining boundaries of discourses, ensuring that some discourses are restricted to those who are qualified and bound by their rules, conventions, and subject to their authorities. There is also greater power for those who appeal to the lowest common denominator to dominate conversations that would previously have limited the effectiveness such tactics by means of higher entry requirements. In the past it was much harder for the uneducated to get involved in realms of theological discourse, even when they were not purposefully being excluded. The theological discourse would have occurred behind the closed doors of institutions, within books with limited and more targeted circulation (before Amazon and the Internet, it was much more difficult to find out about the obscure conversations occurring out there), or privately between ordained or theological educated peers. Those without the same education didn’t have the same access to the conversation or the contexts within which to have it.

    So, for instance, the collapsing boundaries of Christian discourse throw the doors open for those who write to create a primarily emotional impression, rather than present a closely and rigorously reasoned argument, open to cross-examination. I’ve written about this here. It makes things such as Twitter outrage a force within our discourse. It privileges the loud and extreme voices. It raises reactivity over responsibility. It offers emotional immediacy, rather than reflective patience. It speeds things up, favouring snap judgments and oppositions, rather than careful reasoning.

    It also introduces more vulnerable persons to conversations that should be off-limits to them. It is difficult to expose ideas to the sort of robust, rigorous, and necessarily confrontational stress-testing that they require when such testing is increasingly cast as personal attack upon the weak. The sort of rough disputation that has always been an important means of theological discourse and academic discourse more generally is undermined by increasing complaints about the insensitivity of such discourse to psychologically vulnerable persons, who really shouldn’t have been allowed to participate in these conversations to begin with (their viewpoints should be represented, but by people with thick skins and sparring ability, who can take the cross-examination that even the viewpoints of the vulnerable must be exposed to). I believe that these effects are especially pronounced among progressive evangelicals (as I point out in the post I just linked, it is important to pay attention to progressive evangelical styles of writing and blogging and the sort of reasoning that they encourage). However, they are hardly exclusive to them.

  27. David says:

    I agree with this 100%!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *